#Geesegate revealed

September 28th, 2020#Geesegate revealed

THE chase to remove the geese from Lake Daylesford started with an email query from Birch Ward councillor Fiona Robson on January 23, 2019, Freedom of Information documents show.

They also show a recommendation by Community Safety coordinator David George for “a front page newspaper article or similar for consultation” because “the removal of the geese will create a lot of public comment” was ignored.
And in a query from council to Nigel’s Animal Rescue, which was paid $2750 to remove 29 geese and six ducks, about where the birds had gone, the contractor “did not provide any documents which contained the address of the property” and “advised that he does not know the actual address, only how to drive there”.
In response to a query from The Local about the FOI documents, a council spokesperson said in its July 16 council meeting, Hepburn Shire Council resolved that it: acknowledges the community concerns and the impact of the domestic waterfowl on the ecological function of the lake; approves the removal and re-homing of the domestic geese and waterfowl from Lake Daylesford and the proposed community engagement plan; and approves the installation of signage at Lake Daylesford to reinforce the messages and encourage responsible animal ownership.
Asked why the council had not followed Mr George’s advice on a front page story or similar, the council spokesperson told The Local the council had undertaken engagement and communication activities. They included: direct contact with key stakeholders; social media following council determination; staff available to address community enquiries during relocation; post-relocation signage to be installed to reinforce the messages and encourage responsible animal ownership; customer service and other frontline staff having key messages; and consideration of the relocation and rehousing for posting on council social media to reassure community of a positive outcome.
The Local has seen the FOI documents which were supplied by a number of people.The paper trail started with Cr Robson emailing Hepburn Shire Council CEO Evan King on January 23, 2019 saying: “I have had a number of people voice concern regarding the absence of swans at Lake Daylesford. Apparently there used to be many. There is a theory that the geese are scaring them away. Is this something that we are able to explore as part of our biodiversity plan?”

On January 24, Mr King forwarded Cr Robson’s email to the council’s biodiversity officer Brian Bainbridge saying: “I’m not sure what the best way of responding to this is. I would be interested in your thoughts.”
On March 6, Mr Bainbridge emailed Mr George saying: “After the positive response to removing geese at Daylesford lake (sic), I have been asked to supply a briefing for council on the issue for the April (sic) so will try to get this written up by the end of next week.”
Two days later, Mr George replied: “Regarding any action for removal, I am unsure of the consultation that has been put forward already but I would recommend a front page newspaper article or similar for consultation. The removal of the geese will create a lot of public comment.”
On March 12, Mr Bainbridge posted a question on the Local Government Biodiversity Network Special Interest Group website saying: “I am developing a brief to Council in response to requests from community to remove domestic geese from a public waterbody due to their environmental impact…there will be a significant community pushback and I would like any case to be well-founded. I have failed to find State or National information for domestic goose impact and it seems likely most experience with the species will be held by Local Government.”
An April 2 briefing paper then went through the council’s internal processes. The paper’s introduction said: “The purpose of this briefing is to identify issues and options for responding to community concerns on the impact on biodiversity of Domestic Geese present on Daylesford Lake (sic)”. The report stated that “the impact on visitor experience of geese threat displays to protect goslings during breeding season has also been relayed by community”.
Under “What Happens Next” the paper said: “Pending councillor discussion and approval, a project for removal of the geese and associated communication plan will be developed for consideration.”
On June 28, Mr Bainbridge emailed Nigel Williamson from Nigel’s Animal Rescue saying “we are close to completing the process for approving the goose removal at Daylesford Lake (sic)”. Mr Bainbridge also provided a map of the geese removal area on the lake with the numbers and locations they tended to congregate.
On July 15, the day before the council meeting to decide the fate of the geese, Mr Bainbridge had a conversation with native animal expert Tanya Loos following with an email saying he would be interested in bird data for Lake Daylesford including any on the diversity and abundance of native and domestic waterfowl and how this might have altered in the past few years in particular.
The following day he emailed Roger Thomas, who writes for The Courier in Ballarat on environmental matters saying: “You may have noticed Hepburn Council is in the news regarding our proposal to remove a flock of Domestic Geese (and some domestic ducks) from Lake Daylesford.
“I am interested in documentation or credible observations that support (or refute) community members’ anecdotal evidence of impact on native wildlife. In particular, interactions with Black Swans or other native waterfowl.” There is no record in the FOI documents of any reply from either Ms Loos or Mr Thomas.
At the council meeting in Clunes on July 16, the decision to remove the geese was unanimous and on July 17, a purchase order for Nigel’s Animal Rescue was approved.
On July 19, Mr Watson emailed infrastructure manager Bruce Lucas, Mr Bainbridge, Mr George and others, with an email marked “Confidential – Monday 22 July 2019” saying the geese rehoming would take place on July 22 and given the amount of interest to keep the information to themselves.
On July 22 the geese were removed from the lake by Nigel’s Animal Rescue with the address of the property they were moved to “not provided to council”.
Cr Robson said earlier in September that a number of people had raised their concerns regarding the geese at Lake Daylesford and when she received an official complaint she forwarded it Mr King and asked for a report to be brought to council.
“I stand by the decision of council and still believe this was in the best interests of Lake Daylesford, the geese and the community as a whole.”

Words: Donna Kelly | Image: The Local’s July 29, 2019 front page

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